By Nick Brzozowski
This blog is an adaption from Nick's message on Easter Sunday 2023. If you'd like to listen to it instead, click here.
Growing up as a Christian, my faith was very important to me. I was on Team Jesus. And
Team Jesus was losing all year long. All I hear is how people don’t want to go to church, atheists are disproving God, and Jesus keeps losing the culture wars. He may have lost Christmas to Santa, but he’s still got Easter.
And if you were to ask me why we celebrate Easter, I’d fire back - “We celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead.” But, if you were to ask me why that matters, I’d reply with a lot of ummmm’s and uhhhh’s.
What do you think? How can Jesus’ resurrection 2,000 years ago make any difference to our lives today?
Can his resurrection still bring hope when….
You are worrying about a carton of eggs costing $6?
You aren’t sure what the results are going to be from your last medical test?
You are worried about your kids walking from school because you heard about the shooting that happened the other day?
Yes. I really believe it can. And today, I am going to take a lot of thoughts an important book called Surprised by Hope, by NT Wright. I hope to convince you that the resurrection of Jesus is relevant to you, even if you aren’t not a Christian.
1. Resurrection has happened.
If you're a Christian, I want you to memorize these seven numbers:
Three women. At a time when women aren’t viewed as credible witnesses, the first witnesses are women. Not the kind of story someone would make up.
Zero bodies in the tomb.
Forty days of Jesus walking around this earth after his rose from the dead.
Five hundred witnesses. If you watch Law and Order as much as I do, you know that one good witness is enough. But, 500 is total overkill. If there was an empty tomb by no sightings, you could say the body was stolen. If there were sightings and no empty tomb, then sure, they are hallucinating. But, what do you do with an empty tomb and 500 hundred people willing to put their necks on the line to say they saw Jesus?
Four gospels. Hannah and I rent out our guest room on airbnb and we both love telling the story of when these 16 year olds destroyed our house. If you heard the story from me, you would hear totally different details than if you heard from Hannah. Why? Because it's a true story. If we had made it up, all the details would be the same. In the same way, we know that the gospels are all accurate accounts of the resurrection - because they are so different. They aren’t making it up!
There were 33 million Christians 300 years after Jesus rose from the dea.
In 300 years, Christianity grew to include half of the Roman Empire - without force and with the threat of persecution.
Andy Stanley says that Christians need to stop building their faith on the Bible. Why am I a Christian? Because the Bible says Jesus died for my sins. Why do I believe the Bible? Because it’s the Bible. Pretty circular, right?
But, what if it went like this? Why do you believe the Bible is God’s word? Because some guy predicted his death and resurrection and pulled it off. And that guy says that the Bible is God’s word!
The resurrection is not an add on. It is central. It is primary. It is foundational to your faith. Without it, your faith is nothing. In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul writes: "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins."
2. Resurrection will happen.
If the resurrection happened, then that makes Jesus’ resurrection the first fruits for our resurrection.
But, maybe your future resurrection is not bringing you a lot of hope. This could be because you have a lot of misunderstandings about what it will be like.
It's time that we rethink our future, by rethinking rapture, rethinking judgment, and rethinking heaven.
Maybe you have the impression that one day, you are going to turn around and half the population will be snapped out of existence. If you are older than me, you might be thinking of the movie, Left Behind. If you are younger than me, you are thinking of Avengers, Infinity Wars. But, what if I told you, it’s probably not going to happen like that?
Much of that theory comes from 1 Thessalonians 4:7 that says that we will meet the Lord in the air. When the original readers would have heard that, they would have realized that this is a metaphor Paul is using. Back then, when an emperor entered a city, the citizens would meet him outside the city and walk him in. The rapture isn’t about us poofing, but about us professing Jesus as king
In our world, we tend to have mixed feelings about judgment. On the one hand, we know the damage of shame and judgment from others. So we couldn’t picture a loving God putting on the judge hat. You may have heard a preacher or Sunday School teacher use judgment and hell as a way to scare you straight. But, on the other hand, we are more conscience of injustice than ever before: Racism, abuse, greed, oppression. We face these things in big and small ways. We desperately want to see the world sorted out and the wrongs made right.
What if that is what God means by judgment? What if judgment were more of a relief than something to dread? What if it were like an elderly woman pleading for justice for years for her case to finally be brought before the judge and the judge to rule in her favor? A relief.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Our modern idea of heaven with the clouds, wings, and halos is 100% fiction! How can that epitome of boredom offer real hope to us today? Is that going to give you any hope when you are fighting thoughts of meaninglessness and despair? Is that really going to give you hope when you lose a loved one? At least, one day, we are going to kick our shoes off and sit around forever and ever and ever and ever. No.
The story of the Bible is one in which heaven and earth used to be united in a garden and how it will one day be united again in a new garden city. Heaven is not going to be clouds. It is going to be trees, dirt, jobs, culture, paintings, oceans, buildings, cities, technology, new discoveries, communities, sun sets, music and language.
Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus taught us to pray...
Matthew 6:9-10 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.”
Rethink rapture. It's not about us poofing, but Jesus, the king, coming. Rethink judgment. It's not scary, but a relief. Rethink heaven. It's not clouds, but earth!
3. Resurrection is happening.
If resurrection happened and if resurrection will happen, then does that mean resurrection is happening? The answer is Yes! Today, here, now. The Kingdom of God is in our midst. You can hear it. You can see it all around. Jesus will come back and judge the world, but even now, he is sorting things out and using you to do it. He isn’t sleeping. He’s not procrastinating. He is preparing the world for a great healing and rescuing. Heaven is right now breaking in.
So, if Jesus will come back as king, we are currently invited to profess his royalty and to live in such a way as if God were in charge of the place. Jesus says, so why don’t we live generously toward one another, stop cheating on our spouses, stop judging people, speak the truth, and love our enemies. We aren’t going to get it all right, but that is Kingdom living.
And, if Jesus will judge the world, sorting all things out…if there is a great sigh of relief and celebration coming when Jesus rights all wrongs, then we can do it now. We can find injustice and oppression, name it and shame it now. We can get on with the work of bringing justice.
And if there will be a day when heaven and earth finally meet, then right now, we can help invite heaven in. We can bring beauty in the world through art and poetry and music and photography and film. We can take steps to care for the earth because this is the home of heaven. We can study culture and language and society because that will carry on.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes one of his longest chapters on resurrection. And at the end of it, you might expect him to say — “you know, since Jesus was resurrected and you will be resurrected, don’t worry about all that bad stuff in the world. Just relax, you’ll escape it soon enough."
No. Instead, he says - Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
You are a new creation now. You’ve got work to do. And your work is not in vain. You are a stone mason, chiseling your rock day after day.
One day, you will gaze at this great Cathedral towering in all its glory. And you will have the satisfaction to look up and see the part you played in it all.